By Per Peterson
After nearly four hours of courtroom-like rhetoric and public deliberation, the Tracy City Council late Wednesday night voted unanimously to remove Jeff Salmon from the EDA board, based on findings of a hearing that included a number of alleged violations against the longtime Tracy businessman.
Wednesday’s public hearing was a result of an investigation into Salmon after a written complaint was made against him by roofer Jamie Mattson, who was hired by Salmon to repair the roof of his automotive business on the highway earlier this year.
Salmon’s removal was based on the following charges: violation of the Open Meeting Law; violation of Committee Member Codes of Conduct; violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act; and violation of City Code 2.30, subdivisions 2, 3 and 5.
After lengthy debate that included testimony from Tracy City Administrator Kris Ambuehl, Tracy EDA Director Jeff Carpenter and Salmon himself, the council was tasked with voting on whether or not each charge could be substantiated. City Attorney Matthew Gross and Salmon’s attorney, Kevin Stroup both questioned each. The council members were each able to look at various exhibits regarding the case; the council chose to view the documents after all testimony was given.
The council’s deliberations took place in public, before Salmon and all those in attendance at the hearing.
To the matter of Salmon holding non-public serial meetings, the council voted 3-1 against him, with Jeri Schons, Kou Thao and Tracy Mayor Anthony Dimmers supporting the allegation and Dave Tiegs voting no. For the violation of Committee Member Codes of Conduct, the council supported the allegations with the identical roll call.
The council sided with Salmon on three separate allegations of violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, believing the facts against him were not substantiated and that ultimately the violation did not have merit.
The council’s votes against Salmon concerning city code violations were mixed.
For the charge that Salmon violated City Code 2.30, subd. 2, that Salmon failed to comply with the laws of the Open Meeting Law, FCRA, the Committee Member Codes of Conduct and the Tracy City Code, the council agreed the violation was substantiated. In the matter of Salmon’s alleged violation of City Code 2.30 subd. 3 that dealt with work performance on the EDA board and a failure to comply with Committee Member Codes of Conduct, Tiegs made a motion that the allegations were not substantiated, but the motion failed for lack of a second. Schons later made a motion that the allegation was substantiated, and the motion passed on a 3-1 vote, with Tiegs voting no.
In a related allegation that charged Salmon with breaching the law by violating and failing to comply with the Open Meeting Law, FCRA and the Tracy City Code set forth by previous allegations, the council voted unanimously against Salmon. However, the council had to circle back to that matter, as it included allegations that were set forth in the final set of allegations that had yet to be voted on — the conflict of issue matter that was based on Salmon’s prior business dealings with Mattson and his personal feelings toward Mattson, instead of considering the City’s interests.
The council agreed Salmon did not act maliciously and that he did have the City’s best interests in mind, but ultimately decided there was enough evidence to substantiate the charges. Again, Tiegs voted in favor of Salmon.
Much discussion took place concerning each allegation, including when and where Salmon met with fellow EDA members on the Asian Market building, and if those meetings constituted an Open Meeting Law violation. Salmon met with fellow EDA board members Tom Morin, Mark Seager and chairman Dennis Fultz on different occasions. Separate, the meetings didn’t violate Open Meeting Law, but fell in the category of “serial” meetings and thus violated the state’s Open Meeting Law, Stat. 13D.01. Salmon said there was never a meeting between him and Seager. And, “keep in mind — the impression I got earlier was, you all assume I had contacted these people to discuss keeping Mr. Mattson form having a loan — that’s not accurate.”
Another sticking point was over the Fair Credit Reporting Act and whether or not it was validated. Argument also involved the difference between a credit report check and a background check, who initiated the credit report check and who it was shared with. Salmon said that while he did Google Mattson, he was not the one who initiated the background check on Mattson.
Salmon said he saw red flags, in that, as he contends, Mattson owed sub-contractors money, and that’s part of the reason why he didn’t believe Mattson would be a good candidate for the Asian Market building.
“As EDA board members, it’s our job to attempt, to the best of our ability, to make some decisions on who we’re borrowing money to,” Salmon said. “Somebody said what I was doing wasn’t in the best interest of the city in running a background report, well, doesn’t it make sense to know who we’re dealing with? This individual isn’t a local individual who a hundred of us knew … who we all knew had a fairly good reputation in town. This individual flew into town in the middle of winter … to do Mr. (Steve) Trachetenberg’s roof. And Mark Seager had a couple roofs done.”
Carpenter was asked about the process of finding a buyer for the Asian Market building, and if Mattson would’ve been a good fit. He said Mattson, who was in line to buy the building — which has been for sale for five years — and put a new roof on it, was the best and only candidate to purchase the building.
Dimmers asked if Carpenter believed Mattson was a “good applicant” for the proposed sale of the building through the EDA.
“Good and only,” Carpenter responded. “I was asked by the EDA to do my own personal reference check, so I called everyone that he had done work for in Tracy. I reported back to the EDA. I wanted this to be, if anything goes wrong with this applicant — just like any applicant — that we’re getting our money back out of it. My biggest thing was to save that building. He is a roofer and we weren’t going to give him any money until he had the roof done. It was put in the purchase agreement that he was not going to get a dime until it was inspected by the city inspector.”
Carpenter said he couldn’t make a qualification on whether or not Mattson was a good or a bad applicant, but because he was the only applicant, and because he was a roofer, he was considered for a loan.
Another question raised Monday was about the EDA’s perceived inconsistency with its process of giving out loans.
“It makes you wonder if policy needs to be changed,” Dimmers said.
The final vote of the night, at 10:45 p.m., was to remove Salmon from the EDA board. When asked after the hearing if he would appeal the ruling, Salmon was undecided. He can apply to return to the board, but only after the remainder of his current term is up.
“There isn’t much intelligence on the city council, and you can all see that based on what occurred up here,” Salmon said after the hearing. “They didn’t understand what they were doing — that was obvious.”
Another point of contention arose when a modification of EDA minutes was brought to attention. In an interview with the Tracy Area Headlight Herald on Thursday of last week, Ambuehl said the EDA typically submits a condensed version of the minutes.
“EDA minutes, council minutes, everything is condensed,” he said. “You can’t go word-for-word, especially when there are multiple people talking. The minutes are really for point of reference to go back to later. I wouldn’t say it was meant for legal proceedings — that’s what recordings are for. They (Salmon and his attorney) didn’t argue that it wasn’t word-for-word, they just wanted to put a spin on it and say that it was changed.”
Ambuehl said the recordings of previous EDA meetings should’ve been presented at the hearing. He said he had those recordings prepared just in case.